Review: Cavalia Odysseo

Odysseo is a spectacular show

By Byron Toben

Odysseo is the second offering by the Cavalia people, who specialize in multimedia spectacles enhancing live horses and acrobatic humans. This has overtones of Cirque de Soleil and no wonder, since these two, dare I say, horse operas, are the progeny of Normand Latourelle, one of the co-founders of the Cirque. The two entities have no affiliation.

As one who grew up thrilling to Rossini’s William Tell overture to the Lone Ranger radio and TV shows featuring the masked man’s great white horse, Silver, I was predisposed to watch Odysseo. This was further enhanced by tales of Tir Na Og, the mythical white horse of the Irish west. There are many white horses in Odysseo’s string of 70 (all male) but some dun, black, piebald and at least one stunning palomino. The human riders do include many female. Their adeptness at riding frontwards, backwards, sideward, upside down as the mounts gallop and jump is truly amazing. The sheer athleticism of the equines and their riders is equaled by the exploits of limber human interludes where the gang execute double and triple airborne somersaults. One of them, aided by Pistorius-like metal spring shoes, truly soars above the madding crowd.

The sheer athleticism of the equines and their riders is equaled by the exploits of limber human interludes where the gang execute double and triple airborne somersaults.

All of these wonders are performed in what is billed as the world’s largest tent at the northeast corner of Decarie and the TransCanada. The former world’s largest was created for Cavalia. Despite the name, which conjures up hints of the Greek hero Odysseus wandering the ancient seas to return home after the Trojan wars, there is no apparent theme to the many episodes. Horses wander deserts, hills, mountains and streams in an impressionistic staging that I would call, literally, Tableau vivant, had the term not been preempted by motionless live figures whereas here the figures are anything but motionless. In addition to live horseflesh, in one scene an entire carousel of wooden creatures is lowered onto the performance area as limber humans ride and swing from rings above them. Music is also key to the production, as single warblers or sometimes a group chant away, once with gleeful audience participation.

The 2,000-seat tent is often filled to near capacity. Recently spotted in the crowd was popular local jazz singer Mary Ann Lacey and her precocious 6-year-old, Sasha. He contributed his opinion as to which horses he liked best (the white ones), which vaulting (the jumping over obstacles) and which special effects (the real water poured on the sand to create a hoof-splashing finale).

Created in Shawinigan in 2003, Cavalia has toured 83 cities to play before over 4 million people. Odysseo, in its second year, appears likely to equal that.

Odysseo continues in Montreal until August 23. For more information, call 1-866-999-8111.

Feature image: François Bergeron


Odysseo, behind the scenes: Check-out the gallery of photos by photographer James St Laurent, who had the opportunity to shoot the pre-show activity at Cavalia’s Odysseo installations. Discover what goes on before the show.

Byron Toben is a past-president of the Montreal Press Club.

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